In the book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey, the second of the seven habits is to,
‘”Begin with the end in mind”
What would happen if we apply this same principle to our faith life? Considering that we are all going to die, it is never too late to change or amend our spiritual lives keeping in mind our end goal, heaven or hell.
For the Catholic Christian, keeping the end in mind is to make our everyday choices and decisions based on our end goal. God has promised us eternal life through the passion of his Son. Our place is prepared for us and we are free to choose where it will be. St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote that “…we know that we were created for God for all eternity. We have to persevere through the times we fall short by standing up again, confessing our sins and beginning again and again.” If the beatific vision is our desire, we must acknowledge the truth that living the Christian life also means that we will have to overcome spiritual battles. We will fall but we can begin again. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2015) tells us, “There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle.” We must renounce all that tempts and leads us away from our eternal salvation and use the tools that have been given to us for our spiritual battles on this earth.
As St. Paul says in Ephesians 6:10-20; therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. So put on the breastplate of righteousness, on your feet put on the equipment of the gospel of peace, take the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God. Also, pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. St. Paul also says, to keep alert with all perseverance.
In order to persevere, we must practice the virtue of fortitude. The virtue of fortitude shows itself in moral courage against the evil spirit of the times, against improper fashions, against human respect, against the common tendency to seek at least the comfortable, if not the voluptuous. Fortitude gives a person the strength to stay strong. Fortitude helps us to pursue the greater good and the greater good exists and is capable of being obtained by putting on the armor of God.
When we come to the end of our earthly lives, if we have put on the whole armor of God and if we have persevered through the spiritual battles of our days by practicing the virtue of fortitude, we will run through the golden gates and proclaim as St. Paul proclaimed in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” and then we will see Jesus and Our Blessed Mother Mary and together they will take our hands and lead us to God.
Perhaps one of the most difficult things for us in the Christian life is to admit we have sinned. Even more difficult than admitting our own sins may be coming to God our Father and asking for forgiveness in the sacrament of confession. Accepting the truth that we must confess our sins and seek forgiveness through the mercy of God is the first step to growing in faith and beginning again. Jesus gave us the story of the Prodigal Son as an example to us of the great mercy of God. I invite you to gaze upon the painting of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt. There are four figures in this painting, two women and two men, aside from the father and the son. In his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, A Story of Homecoming, Henri J. M. Nouwen, points out, among many things, the seeming glow of the hands of the father upon the shoulders of his repentant son.
Put yourself in this painting. Gaze upon the father’s face and hands. Look into the faces of those in the background. Where are you now? Are you just a spectator? Perhaps you have just finished kneeling before God asking for his loving mercy and forgiveness and know the mercy the Prodigal Son is about to receive and the new beginning he will be given.
Are you waiting for your turn to kneel before God our Father and ask for the same mercy and forgiveness that God has to offer you? God offers to each of us that same new beginning again and again, as often as we ask for it.